Review: `Siegfried and Roy Present Darren Romeo: The Voice of Magic


Musical theater turns magical – somewhat
«« ½ Flash, bang, wallop

Darren Romeo is many things over the course of his 90-minute magic and music show with the cumbersome title.

He’s a magician, as promised, and a singer, as promised. He’s also, as the title reminds us, the protégé of master Vegas magicians Siegfried and Roy. But Romeo is also a magic enthusiast eager to share his hobby, a musical theater aspirant who wants to move people with the sound of his voice and an old-school Vegas entertainer with a lust for flash over substance.

That’s a lot to pack into a small frame, but Romeo does it. He’s also a young man – I’d guess around 30 – so he has the need to make it all fresh while paying homage to all the magicians (and boy have there been a lot of them) to come before him. Being classic and new is a tricky maneuver and one Romeo is still working his way through in The Voice of Magic at the Post Street Theatre.

There’s still a lot of Vegas cheese in the show and a few Branson, Mo., clunkers left to smooth out. But Romeo has his charms, nowhere more apparent than when all the set pieces and flashing lights and overstrained songs are set aside and he goes one-on-one with a kid from the audience. On Tuesday night, that kid was 10-year-old Ashley, a charmer in her own right. She and Romeo sat at the edge of the stage, in front of the curtain, and Romeo did a simple but impressive (and slightly icky – in a good kid way) card trick. The number was meant to recall Romeo’s Long Island youth as a kids’ party entertainer and to show us how far he’s come. But Romeo would be wise to build a little more of that human element into his show.

Just as Romeo is attempting to be many things as a young, singing magician, so too is his show attempting to be spectacular and intimate, romantic and funny, impressive and silly. It doesn’t all work, but Romeo has the energy to keep it all together. He builds nice rapport with the audience, even if his fake giggle grates from time to time, and when he’s more natural and less “on” he’s quite appealing.

Romeo seemed to have a case of opening-night nerves on Tuesday and probably wasn’t as slick as on other nights when his mentors aren’t sitting in the orchestra (Siegfried and Roy, who is still recovering from a near-death encounter with one of their famous white tigers, received a standing ovation from the crowd). Some of the tricks and entrances were a little rough and revealed maybe more than the magician would have liked.

And he seemed to be suffering some vocal troubles that plagued certain numbers. But Romeo is enough of a pro that he pulled it all off with panache.

I can neither sing nor do magic tricks, let alone do both at the same time, so Romeo is well ahead of me in both departments. What he’s doing on stage is much harder than he makes it look, and some of it is beguiling. He serenades an audience member while singing Billy Joel’s sweetly sad “And So It Goes” while making a paper rose then, in a fiery flash, turning it into a real rose. He changes places in a flash several times with his leading lady, Kristy Michelsen, who also does some tricks and sings some songs of her own.

And then there’s the bit with the animal puppets on sticks and the furry little wormy things that dance and talk following “Talk to the Animals.” Cheesy. And so’s the “sawed in half” number, when it’s clear Romeo is wearing something bulky apparatus under his black T-shirt (the same Darren Romeo T-shirt available for sale in the lobby). “Gethsemane,” from Jesus Christ Superstar, is probably better when Romeo’s voice is stronger, though the Roman centurion contraptions worn by the dancers (Mariko Takahashi and Terrin Kelly) looks like a leftover from Siegfried and Roy’s show at the Mirage, and the finale of that number, when Romeo levitates, is awkwardly Christ-like.

He sings show tunes from Barnum, The Fantasticks, My Fair Lady and Kiss of the Spider Woman and even throws in a Melissa Etheridge tune and some originals. Somehow it all seems a little retro with the sparkly curtains and overly-flashy lights. When Romeo goes acoustic as it were, when it’s really just music and magic and a whole lot less flash, that will be something to see. If he really wants to take the show out of Vegas and the Vegas out of the show, there’s still some work to be done.

Siegfried and Roy present Darren Romeo: The Voice of Magic is at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post St., San Francisco through JUNE 29 (earlier than previously announced). Tickets are $45-$65. Call 415-771-6900 or visit Darren Romeo’s Web site is

Darren Romeo makes magic sing

One of the first things Darren Romeo wants you to know is that yes, his name is really Darren Romeo – Darren Robert Romeo, to be exact. And his first name is a tribute – with a slight spelling change — to his parents’ love of crooner Bobby Darin.

Growing up in East Meadow, N.Y., Romeo developed a love of magic at the same time he was doing musicals in school, but he never put the two together. His goal was to be a magician along the lines of one of his heroes, David Copperfield and Siegfried and Roy.

Sitting in a suite at the San Francisco Ritz-Carlton, the diminutive, handsome Romeo has the enthusiasm of a kid about to make a key purchase in an overstuffed magic shop. He’s in town to promote an upcoming gig. And it’s a big one, proof that the young magician from the ‘burbs has achieved his goal and then some. Look no further than the imposing, blond German man sitting next to Romeo: Siegfried Fischbacher

From doing children’s birthday parties in New York to playing conventions, Romeo paid his dues as a struggling musician. His father actually had the idea of adding music to the act. Romeo displayed his voice in musical theater, so why not add it to his act? And while he was at it, why not pay tribute to his namesake and sing a Bobby Darin song?

“I said, `Please stop. Come on.'” Romeo recalls. “I wasn’t at all sure about that ’50s music. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I tried to do something to `Mack the Knife,’ but I couldn’t make it work organically. Then I tried creating a trick set to `Dream Lover’ with my first assistant, who’s still my assistant, Kristy Michelsen, and it worked.
The trick remains a cornerstone of my act.”

San Francisco audiences can see the trick beginning tonight (June 3) at the Post Street Theatre when Siegfried & Roy Present Darren Romeo: The Voice of Magic begins performances.

Romeo is the first young magician that Siegfried and Roy have presented to the world. But even getting Siegfried to see young Romeo was quite a trick in itself.

An old friend of Siegfried and Roy’s, Irene Larsen, whose husband, Bill Larsen, co-founded the Magic Castle – sort of American magic’s unofficial home – in Los Angeles, suggested that Siegfried go to a club on the Las Vegas strip and see a promising magician. Oh, yes, and he sings.

” Irene dragged me, she DRAGGED me,” Siegfried says. “I said to her, `A singing magician? No way.’ But Irene had never asked me to see a magician before, so I went. And here on the stage, the music started, and out comes this little, short guy. He started singing, and within 10 minutes he had made a connection with the audience. I thought his voice was good, sometimes a little high.”

At this last recollection, Romeo’s eyes widen and he feigns shock. Did Siegfried just say his voice was too high? “You’re in quite a mood,” Romeo says with a laugh. But then he adds: “I was honored to have Siegfried come see my show.”

As one of the premiere magicians in the world, Siegfried says he’s used to having young magicians ask him for advice. “They want to hear something wise,” he says. “I never know what to say. They always want to know about tricks, about their show and all that. Darren he surprised me. The first thing he said to me was, `I’m writing a musical!’ That blew me away and caught me completely off guard. Darren is not like the others – he talked about entertaining, he talked about theater. I saw a little of myself in him, though I did not have such wonderful, supportive parents.”

This meeting was about nine years ago, and Romeo, who seems to be hovering around 30, is still writing the musical, which he started when he was doing a stint in the long-running off-Broadway musical phenomenon, The Fantasticks.

Some of the musical has found its way into his show, which also includes musical theater nuggets from The Phantom of the Opera, Barnum, Aspects of Love, Jesus Christ Superstar and, of course, The Fantasticks. He also throws in some originals (from the musical), a little Billy Joel and some Doctor Doolittle as a way of making light of the fact that Romeo isn’t nearly as fond of animals as his mentors, Siegfried and Roy. There will be no white tigers in Romeo’s show.

If there have been singing musicians before, they certainly haven’t made the kind of splash Romeo is making. Once he started combining his love of singing and music with his love of magic, it seemed a natural match.

“I know people hear `singing magician’ and want to run from it, not to it,” Romeo says. “But music is universal, and magic is really just another form of theatricality, especially if you use magic to tell a story. That’s what interests me.”

Siegfried adds: “For me, magic is an emotional experience, and that experience gets deeper with Darren’s singing. Theater is magic anyway, even without the technology and all that. Darren can captivate just with his talent, his voice and his whole approach. And believe, me, I tested him all the time.”

“Still does!” Romeo says.

“But that’s what Roy and I have done for 45 years, we test and challenge each other,” Siegfried continues. “That’s what our life is. You test the audience, me, the show every night. You’re always in charge of it.”

For Romeo, developing a magic show with Siegfried and Roy, is something he literally dreamed of. There’s a video floating around of Romeo at age 14 while attending magic summer camp. Siegfried has seen the tape and describes it: “There’s Darren with his big eyes and Long Island accent. They ask him why he wants to be a magician, and he says, `Siegfried and Roy have a quote in their show: Within all of us there is an illusive melody, which when heard and followed leads us to the fulfillment of our fondest dreams.'”

The kid has come a long way from watching his Uncle Vic make a handkerchief disappear to getting his first magic kit to playing Vegas to becoming the first protégé of Siegfried and Roy.

“I’m really lucky,” Romeo says. “Believe me. I know.”

Siegfried and Roy present Darren Romeo: The Voice of Magic is at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post St., San Francisco through June 29. Tickets are $45-$65. Call 415-771-6900 or visit Darren Romeo’s Web site is